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Carolyn Tillie

The Peace Corps

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i did something similar to the peace corps -- it was a one-year program teaching high school in kenya. i was 25 at the time, which made me older than most of the others but not the oldest. (there was a 40 year old woman in the program and she seemed really old to me at the time.)

 

my reasons were mostly curiosity. i wanted to see what it was like to live in a very different culture. the year was a big success on that level, but different from real integration in the culture in many ways. curiously i ended up at a rural school which was mysteriously classified as 'urban', which meant that it drew teachers from all over the country and uganda.

 

i didn't go into it with ideas about doing a good thing, which turned out to be a good thing because even under good circumstances it's difficult for a teacher to see that they are "helping" people, and these weren't good circumstances. if development was easy they would have already developed, someone would have figured it out.

 

as far as peace corps went, i saw a lot of peace corps volunteers. this was a long time ago, and not every country is the same, but they had to deal with a lot of bureaucracy on one hand -- for instance, they had to account for their time to their peace corps supervisors and attend mandatory peace corps gatherings whereas i didn't have any of that. personally i wouldn't have liked it at all and would have found it a bit of a wedge between me and the community.

 

i'd echo AB's advice -- go if you want to go. otherwise find something else to throw yourself into.

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I'm not sure how you feel about risking your health and understand that everything is a risk in one way or another, but in many of the countries, you're living in huts, and experiencing the sanitation conditions that are one of the reasons why some of humankind's most savage diseases (such as TB, typhoid, hepatitis, diphtheria, etc.) that are currently very rare in the US still run rampant elsewhere.

 

I've had quite a number of friends that joined, and have lived in several countries where there were Peace Corps volunteers off in the hinterlands and we'd run into them from time to time and have big chats about how things were going. Although I'd say most enjoyed it and found it rewarding, three of them (not at the same time or location) got really ill. One never recovered and that was some thirty years ago. She's still fighting the aftereffects of it. I can't remember what she got, but it was something really serious like malaria and by the time they got her out of the jungle and into treatment she was in pretty bad shape and nearly died. The second got some sort of water-borne disease and after weeks of dysentery, had to be medevacked back to the US. The third got a parasite that they surmised crawled into his ear or mouth or up his nose while he was sleeping, deposited an egg somewhere in his sinuses, and that hatched into a worm (that you could see!) in his eyeball. He only regained partial vision in that eye.

 

And when my son was about four years old, he got a big blister on his left cheek about one inch under his eye. It grew and grew, and the doctors were not sure what it was. Finally, a tropical disease specialist lanced it, and found a larvae of a flying insect that lands on animals (generally livestock) and lays an egg there. They cut it out, and stitched it up and he's fine now, although he still has a big scar on his face to prove it. And we were living on a US Air Force Base in Panama, so you can imagine what people have to put up with down in the Darien or something.

 

I'm not telling you that this all means you shouldn't consider it. Many tens of thousands of PC volunteers come and go and do great and good works and and consider it fun and rewarding and have no problems whatsoever other than putting up with arduous conditions.

 

But (not to put too fine a point on it) you're no spring chicken. Although you are nowhere nearly so old as I, still, you should be aware of the fact that there might be lifelong health consequences and the young and strong and fit are probably better equipped to handle them than you.

 

There are volunteer groups that go to remote and impoverished areas in the US to help. Two places that come immediately to mind are Appalachia and the Indian reservations of the Southwest and the Dakotas. I've thought myself about volunteering there.

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Thanks, Jaymes. That seems to be the pervading warning in all the sites I have been reading. There is a rather high separation rate of volunteers due to health reasons. More than I would have expected.

 

I have a lot more reading to do and will probably go to one of the local presentations.

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Have you ever considered doing a vacation volunteer thing? I've heard mixed reviews, and they're certainly cushier positions than PC offers, but it might be a good way to get your toes wet.

 

One of my grad school peers was in Kyrgyzstan or Kazakhstan--I can't remember which. I think he was doing teacher training there, or just teaching English at a university. His situation had one of the better living/working conditions. He still had to be very flexible, but he had a great time.

 

If you think you want to teach English, it's a good idea to start doing volunteer work now. People think if you can speak a language, you can teach it, but it takes far more skill than innate ability.

 

Someone on eG recently posted about his experience in the PC. He was somewhere in Africa and had expected to be teaching, but ended up doing something different. Maybe you could PM him and pick his brain a little?

 

(he might be a she, but I'm not sure)

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Carolyn, You've already received a lot of good advice. Ms 9 and I both work in several homeless shelters and I help at a state supported job bank, resume writing/interview skills. But we both go home after.

 

Peace Corps is a big step. 1 of my coworkers signed up for a 2 year committment and went to Africa (don't recall the country) to help with HIV

education. She's 20 something and was enjoying it, her parents hated the idea, but she's an adult. last I heard, she was startingto miss creature comforts.

 

I did go up to NH where there was heavy flooding a few years ago. We slept on cots in a gymnasium, and worked hard all day..for a few days. It was vey rewarding and I was always a bus ride from home.

 

The group I'm involved with (boston cares.org) sent groups to LA and MS after Katrina. I considered but ultimately passed.

 

I'd suggest taking on smaller bites and seeing how it goes before jumping in with both feet to something like PC...see how you deal with the inconveniences/sacrifices...and increase your commitments as your comfort level increases. It's tremendously satisfying to do this type of thing but I think it's important to know your limits. My circumstance have changed and I'd probably do a LA/MS now...may happen?

 

Just some thoughts but if you're not happy with a PC assignment, you probably won't help yourself or the people you're working with.

 

Best thoughts and PM me if you want to talk more.

 

 

 

 

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9L - that is perfect and probably more the direction I'm going to go in. The homeless shelters I worked with were one-day stints and nothing more long term. I am already connecting with some local charities where I might be able to do something more substantial.

 

I've talked to a lot of people in the past few days about the Corps and it seems the one thing that *they* don't tell you (which I alluded to earlier), is the huge health risk. More people suffer life-long debilitating health issues during their service time and while a 20-year old body has a better likelihood of recovering, someone like myself who would be approaching 50 during my service has less than stellar odds. Although one site I was reading seemed to think that they place volunteers "of advanced years" in locales that have better health care since it is a known issue.

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Aside from the vey real health risks, depending on where you go, there are emotional issues.

 

In my 50s, I've grown to enjoy having my "stuff" around. I also assume that most (all) of the people on this board enjoy dining; whether it's a fine dining, ethnic, or DIY.. it's something you totally give up and lose control over. It may sound crazy, but what I eat is 1 of my great pleasures. PC or LA/MS/Haiti type relief efforts take me out of the equation. Line up on the chow line and eat a starch and whatever. So it helps if you're the type of person who doesn't care about things like that. Have any favorite clothing that you like? Forget it.

 

In my 20's, I wasn't so discerning; and it would not have been a great sacrifice to do without these things.

 

I know it sounds selfish, feels it typing..but it is a reality. We do what we can and it's your/my life we're talking about.

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I'd suggest taking on smaller bites and seeing how it goes before jumping in with both feet to something like PC...see how you deal with the inconveniences/sacrifices...and increase your commitments as your comfort level increases. It's tremendously satisfying to do this type of thing but I think it's important to know your limits.

 

And let me reiterate that there are several areas in the US that could certainly use help and that host organized groups of volunteers. The Indian reservations of the Dakotas and Southwest, the mountains of Appalachia, the rural areas of the Deep South come immediately to mind. There is stark, grinding, crippling poverty, hunger, illiteracy, abuse, plenty of people that could use a helping hand right here in our nation. Save the Children has programs in at least a dozen US states. I don't mention them as a suggestion necessarily that you get involved with them, only as an illustration that the need in the US definitely exists, and I'd suggest you start by looking around here and finding a worthwhile organization a little closer to home that could use your help for a month or three.

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I know of folks who have taken a year off to teach English in Japan or South Korea. The hours are brutally long (working up to 12 hours a day) but the pay is good.

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I know of folks who have taken a year off to teach English in Japan or South Korea. The hours are brutally long (working up to 12 hours a day) but the pay is good.

 

Why, our own Prasantrin, who's posting in this very thread, is just such a gal! She's in Japan now and has been teaching English there for...how long, Pras?

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Actually, I'm back in Canada now! My contract reached its maximum in March. I was in Japan for 11 years (on and off), but this last stint was 6 years. I think it might be a little different for me than for Carolyn because teaching is my profession, or at least what my field of studies leads me to do (MA in TESOL). But, and please correct me if I'm wrong, I think Carolyn is looking more to help others, and it just happens that her most likely avenue to do that through the Peace Corps would be through teaching.

 

Teaching in Japan or Korea is much like the Peace Corps in that everyone's situation is different, and nothing is as you expect. My last position was very cushy--8 hour days with no more than 4 teaching hours a day (which is really only a total of 3 hours of teaching) with 14 teaching hours a week, fully furnished rent-free apartment, etc. etc. But my first position in Japan was very different--I taught up to 6 periods a day (anywhere from 4-6 hours) with up to 30 hours a week, sparsely furnished apartment that was about $700/month for about 150 square feet of living space, only 10 vacation days off a year, etc. Most jobs in Japan are actually more like that position. Korea ranges widely in the types of positions you can get. I know people who have had really great experiences there, but I know ever more people who had horrible experiences in Korea.

 

@Carolyn, if you are really serious about teaching (ESOL or another subject), then Teach for America might be a good place to start. You'll still be in the US, but you may be in an unfamiliar area of the country, and you'll be in a high-needs area. You'll still be helping people who need it, just not in a foreign country.

 

But if it's not necessarily teaching that interests you, then consider doing volunteer work for places like Habitat for Humanity, too. That could give you experience in other areas, so you won't necessarily be limited to teaching positions within the PC. You're a businessperson, so you may be able to qualify for some of the other positions like teaching locals entrepreneurial skills, for example.

 

There are also other development agencies that look for volunteers. MCC and VSO are two great organisations. I've always wanted to work for MCC which does really wonderful work, but they prefer their volunteers be people of faith (specifically Christian). Take a look around, and don't limit yourself to the Peace Corps.

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9L - that is perfect and probably more the direction I'm going to go in. The homeless shelters I worked with were one-day stints and nothing more long term. I am already connecting with some local charities where I might be able to do something more substantial.

 

I've talked to a lot of people in the past few days about the Corps and it seems the one thing that *they* don't tell you (which I alluded to earlier), is the huge health risk. More people suffer life-long debilitating health issues during their service time and while a 20-year old body has a better likelihood of recovering, someone like myself who would be approaching 50 during my service has less than stellar odds. Although one site I was reading seemed to think that they place volunteers "of advanced years" in locales that have better health care since it is a known issue.

 

Have you considered simply donating a large part of your income to those in need. Is it absolutely necessary that you have face to face contact with the beneficiaries of your largesse? If so, why?

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Not first hand, but have heard the stories for the last 25 years.

 

My friend was in PC in the Philippines in her 20's - funny thing, I can't remember what the position was! She dug her own latrine (and found a toilet to put on top of the hole), ants ate her underwear, she fended off the advances of strange men, and learned to eat spam and rice. She is still in touch with the PC people she met during those years and I know she thinks those years were invaluable. I could put you in touch if you want to call her and discuss what it would be like at a more established time in your life.

 

I also grew up with a guy who ended up teaching English in Thailand - he had a nice house with a house boy, plenty to eat, running water...and went on to teach privately in Iran, Saudi Arabia, central California, and Oregon. It gave him lots of time to read and raise his boys. Not a very social craving sort of person. His brother tried PC and went AWOL after a month in Micronesia. Bug infested woven huts and food was too much for him - and the solitude made him nuts.

 

Recent acquaintance looking for an early retirement after almost 30 years with the same company. They will credit PC years towards his retirement. He has qualified and been told he has a post in Fiji this fall - but he is waiting to find out if it is in his area of expertise or if they want him to do something like teach English. He says he will turn that down. I can probably get you his number if you want to talk about the process.

 

AmeriCorps pays next to nothing, but has some interesting possibilities. M is volunteering in a program run by a member - a creative writing program in the local jail. The coordinator also runs one on one tutoring for GED and some other programs in the jail. Not sure how any of this helps with the unaffordable SF apartment. I'm assuming that giving away a large part of your income doesn't help that situation nor does it fulfill that intrinsic human need to be of service that you are feeling.

 

Good luck sorting this out. There are lots of opportunities.

 

 

 

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Aside from the vey real health risks, depending on where you go, there are emotional issues.

 

In my 50s, I've grown to enjoy having my "stuff" around. I also assume that most (all) of the people on this board enjoy dining; whether it's a fine dining, ethnic, or DIY.. it's something you totally give up and lose control over. It may sound crazy, but what I eat is 1 of my great pleasures. PC or LA/MS/Haiti type relief efforts take me out of the equation. Line up on the chow line and eat a starch and whatever. So it helps if you're the type of person who doesn't care about things like that. Have any favorite clothing that you like? Forget it.

 

In my 20's, I wasn't so discerning; and it would not have been a great sacrifice to do without these things.

 

I know it sounds selfish, feels it typing..but it is a reality. We do what we can and it's your/my life we're talking about.

Further on these lines, Carolyn, from what little I know of you, I can't imagine you giving up doing your jewelry for a couple of years.

 

Maybe there's somethng I'm missing & you could continue to do that sort of work while on a Peace Corps stint, but it doesn't seem (to me) like that'd be easy, if doable at all. OTOH maybe it'd open a new creative avenue for you.

 

Just following along as a spectator here.....

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Further on these lines, Carolyn, from what little I know of you, I can't imagine you giving up doing your jewelry for a couple of years.

 

Maybe there's somethng I'm missing & you could continue to do that sort of work while on a Peace Corps stint, but it doesn't seem (to me) like that'd be easy, if doable at all.

 

On the other hand, if she did take advantage of opportunities to work in any of the many impoverished Native American communities in this country, she might even expand her jewelry knowledge and experience, as well as assist Native American youth to improve their jewelry-making techniques (beading, carving, silversmithing and metalworking, stone-cutting and polishing, etc.), something upon which many of them depend for their livelihood.

 

Learn and Serve in Native American Communities

 

Volunteer Opportunities Among the Navajo and Hopi

 

Don't just sit there complaining - make a difference in Zuni

 

Violence Against Women in American Indian/Native Communities

 

 

 

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